The apartment Qin Xiong and Huang Hui purchased for Qin Ke was one hundred and fifty square meters, with four rooms and two living spaces. For a young, single woman, it would have been considered a very spacious place to live.
Trace evidence inspectors had already surveyed the apartment. The footprints found inside were fairly straightforward. Four sets were found, belonging to Qin Ke, Huang Hui, Yu Xiaohai, and an unknown person. The unknown person was quickly identified as the housekeeper who worked for the building, Tao-jie. The building's work records showed that Tao-jie had come in to clean Qin Ke's apartment just one day before the murders at the Qin family's home.
"They called this a home they bought for their daughter, but you can see Qin Xiong and Huang Hui expressing their desire for control everywhere in this apartment," Ming Shu said. He put on a pair of gloves and shoe coverings before stepping inside to study the rooms. "The name on the deed is Huang Hui's, but this place was purchased five years ago, when Qin Ke was only sixteen. So it's understandable that her name wouldn't be on the deed. She was too young. But just looking at the decorations…"
Judging by the decorations and interior design alone, it would have been absolutely impossible for anyone to tell that a single girl in her early twenties had lived here.
From the living room to the bedroom to the study to the kitchen to the bathroom—every single room spoke of the aesthetics of a middle-aged resident. The colors clashed, the style of decor was a mishmash of eastern and western. It was like a jarring collision of a modern city apartment and a rural country home.
"Qin Ke was twenty-one years old. She was of an age where she could have been independent, but she still relied on her parents for absolutely everything from food to clothing. She couldn't even choose the decor she preferred in her own home," Xiao Yu'an said. "She may have been seen as a 'disgrace', but it's easy to trace why."
A decorative red cloth covered the television in the living room. The remote had been tossed into a drawer of the coffee table. There was a pretentious wooden tea set on the table, upon which a thin layer of dust had already gathered.
"It seems Qin Ke rarely spent time in the living room," Ming Shu said.
"She actually didn't spend much time at home at all," Xiao Yu'an said. He picked up the family portrait that had been placed facedown on the speaker in the living room. "Based on the surveillance footage provided by her building, we can determine her daily routine—she usually came home at two or three in the morning, then left again at nine or ten after daybreak. She treated this place like a hotel."
"For someone who's unemployed, Qin Ke did spend a lot less time at home than you would expect." Ming Shu walked over to Xiao Yu'an. "This photo…"
"Probably taken a long time ago. Qin Ke and Qin Xu are both still children in this photo." Xiao Yu'an turned the frame around in his hands. "Imitation gold-plated frame, cheap and crude. It's very possible that Huang Hui bought it and forced Qin Ke to keep it here."
"Huang Hui probably put that photo in as well, to create the illusion of a happy family living in this home," Ming Shu said. "Qin Ke couldn't rebel against her strong-willed mother, but she kept the photo facedown most of the time."
Xiao Yu'an nodded. "Take a look around. I just walked through the rooms, and only the master bedroom and master bath show signs of being lived in. The kitchen is fully stocked with cooking utensils and spices, but it looks like these things have hardly ever been used."
"Then if Qin Ke was hiding something, odds are she hid it in the master bedroom." Ming Shu made his way in there and found a laptop on the table, which he sealed away in an evidence bag. Then he started to rummage through the closet and drawers.
Zhou Yuan had already looked through Qin Ke's cell phone, and her internet history there didn't yield anything noteworthy. Cell phones were more convenient than computers. These days, most young people preferred to use cell phones and often neglected their laptops. As a result, digging into a person's cell phone was often more efficient than looking into a person's computer.
But Ming Shu had no intentions of letting Qin Ke's computer go unchecked.
"It's all luxury makeup and fashion brands," Xiao Yu'an said. "Qin Ke spent all her money on finding 'boy toys' and dressing herself up."
Ming Shu sifted through the clothes crammed into the closet. He took out one article of clothing and said, "Isn't Qin Ke too careless with these clothes, if she bought them herself? Judging by how much she spends on these, she should at least have a walk-in closet for her things. Even if Huang Hui wouldn't let her have a walk-in closet here, since the apartment was still in Huang Hui's name, there are other closets in other rooms. If she really loved these clothes, Qin Ke could have used those to neatly organize her things and sort them into categories."
"Just like you," Xiao Yu'an said.
Ming Shu's own apartment was relatively small. There was no room for a separate walk-in closet. But he did love dressing up, and he had an extremely large collection of clothes. He kept everything tidy, though, and definitely didn't shove his things into a closet like he didn't care.
Xiao Yu'an's home was much bigger, and he'd set aside an entire room to serve as Ming Shu's closet. Sometimes, when Ming Shu had a day off, he would hang out in that room all day, rearranging and reorganizing his clothes and shoes.
"Yeah." Ming Shu shook the dress he was holding. "This dress cost at least twenty thousand yuan. Not only did Qin Ke not hang it up, she just stuffed it into the bottom of her closet."
As he spoke, Ming Shu reached back into the closet and pulled out another dress. "And this one is the exact same dress. The only difference is in the size."
"So Qin Ke bought two of the same dress, with the only difference being size," Xiao Yu'an mused. "If the size was wrong, normally a person would go back to the shop and exchange it for a new one. But Qin Ke didn't exchange her dress. She simply bought a new one. Maybe she didn't buy a new one because the size of the first was wrong. Maybe she bought it just for the sake of buying it.
"Perhaps she doesn't buy these clothes because she likes them. Perhaps she simply wanted to squander her parents' money away."
Ming Shu nodded. "I get that feeling too. Qin Ke didn't have any plans for her life. Qin Xu said that Qin Ke was simple-minded, and that she only ever cared about dating. She did start to pick up guys and compete with other girls over men when she was still in high school, and she was well-known for always keeping a 'boy toy' with her.
"But she treated her men like her clothes. She didn't cherish them. Yu Xiaohai was just her most recent fling, not someone special. Her actions, at their core, all seem to be centered around a purpose—taking revenge on her parents."
"She hated her parents to the point that she would have ruined herself just to disappoint them," Xiao Yu'an said. "In her eyes, her parents may have been irredeemable villains."
Even after the master bedroom was thoroughly searched, nothing related to Qin Ying was found.
Ming Shu went to check out the study and the other bedrooms, while Xiao Yu'an returned to the living room and stood before the facedown photo frame once more.
"Director Xiao?" Ming Shu came out of one of the inner rooms just in time to see Xiao Yu'an taking apart the frame.
The frame was poorly made. As soon as Xiao Yu'an started to open it, it more or less fell apart. The backing came loose, and the family portrait slipped out of the frame—along with another piece of paper.
Ming Shu picked it up. The expression in his eyes instantly changed. "This is…"
It was a yellowed photo, approximately the size of an infant's palm. The photo depicted a boy, around fifteen or sixteen years old, smiling brightly while dressed in a white dress shirt and black slacks. His style of dress was very dated.
The scrap of paper wasn't a complete photo. It had been torn at the edges. Even the remaining piece had cracks and creases running down the middle. The front and back of the photo had been sealed with clear tape, which were already showing signs of age. The tape must have been applied at least a few years ago.
Without the tape holding the photo together, the image would have been split right down the middle of the boy's face.
"This is Qin Ying?" Ming Shu lifted his head and looked towards Xiao Yu'an.
There was no evidence that this was Qin Ying, not yet. But Ming Shu already had a strong feeling that this person couldn't possibly be anyone else.
"Take it to Longcheng Street and ask the people who remember Qin Ying. Then we'll know," Xiao Yu'an said. He put the two photos and the broken photo frame into an evidence bag. "Huang Hui probably bought the frame and put the family portrait in, but Qin Ke was the one who lived here. Qin Ke could have put this other photo into the frame at any time."
"Right. Because what reason would Huang Hui have for putting this photo in the frame?" Ming Shu's tone was growing more impassioned. "She would have no reason. But Qin Ke would have had a reason, if she knew this person was Qin Ying, her young uncle. By putting Qin Ying's photo into the same frame as the Qin family's portrait, she was implicitly stating her own thoughts on the matter."
Xiao Yu'an gave Ming Shu's waist a pat. "The truth is probably as you say. But, Captain Ming, aren't you getting a little too worked up?"
Ming Shu froze. He suddenly realized that he had indeed been too eager to present his theory.
If the person with him had been anyone except Xiao Yu'an, if it had been Fang Yuanhang, Yi Fei, Xu Chun, or anyone else from the Serious Crimes Division, Ming Shu wouldn't have said all that in such an excitable way.
He was the backbone of the Serious Crimes Division. Other people could get excited and worked up, but he couldn't. He had to always maintain his calm, and he had to be the one to bring over-excited teammates—such as Fang Yuanhang—back down to earth. He was the one who had to remind others to analyze the situation with a clear mind, and he was the one who stood above the rest of his team, calmly studying and commanding them.
This was actually an exhausting job.
Because no matter how calm he could be, he was still a flesh and blood person. And as a person, he was bound to have emotions.
When he knew it was Xiao Yu'an at his side, he allowed himself to relax just a little. He could show a rare streak of impulsiveness, because he instinctively knew that he could rely on Xiao Yu'an. Even if he made small mistakes or impulsive declarations, he knew Xiao Yu'an would be there to pull him back onto the right path.
And Xiao Yu'an really did pull him back now.
Ming Shu took a deep breath and smiled. "I understand, my Director Xiao. I'm going to verify my theories now!"
Longcheng Street, Road 3.
That night, the restaurants at the end of the block were getting ready to open again.
In the past, at around that time of evening, the plastic benches outside Cheng Jianghu would all be occupied by waiting patrons. Today, however, only the restaurant itself was full of customers. A few guests waited outside, but their numbers had dwindled significantly. Some guests paused outside the shop, then drifted away after hearing there would be a thirty-minute wait.
The owners of the neighboring Shrimp Baobao had been brutally murdered, leaving behind only their young son. This news had already spread all through Longcheng Street, and even Cheng Jianghu's business had been affected.
On the surface, this seemed to make no sense. Shrimp Baobao was the restaurant involved in the recent incident, not Cheng Jianghu. Everything was business as usual at Cheng Jianghu, so why were customers less willing to dine there?
"Forget it, let's pick another place. This one is next to Shrimp Baobao, it's unlucky," said a woman leading a group of customers outside Cheng Jianghu. "Usually I would be fine with waiting, but not today. After such a big thing happened next door, just sitting out here feels risky. I won't stay."
"I was going to protest when you guys suggested this place for tonight," someone else agreed. "Forget about sitting outside. I don't even want to go in to eat."
"Then let's find another place. I heard there's a shop on Road 1 that does a great frog and fish head dish," a third person said. "We've been here plenty of times already. Why don't we try something new?"
"Alright, then let's go for the frog and fish."
A seemingly endless stream of customers paused outside Cheng Jianghu, only to decide to go elsewhere due to the 'inauspiciousness' of the restaurant. Ming Shu sat in his police car and observed this intriguing scene.
Back when Cheng Jianghu shot to popularity due to Qiu Min's promotional video, Shrimp Baobao suffered despite having nothing to do with it.
Now, with the deaths of the owners of Shrimp Baobao, Cheng Jianghu was suffering despite having nothing to do with the tragedy.
In society, even seemingly unrelated things could be threads that wound up tangled together.
Soon, Ming Shu's cell phone rang. He picked up and heard one of his team members confirm that three people had positively identified Qin Ying as the young man in the old photograph.
"I couldn't even remember what Qin Ying looked like, but as soon as I saw that photo, I remembered right away," said Old Xu. He used to work at the old Chilun factory, right alongside Qin Xiong's father Qin Anqiang.
The old man held the photo in his hand and thought back with a nostalgic look in his eye. "If I had to compare the two, I would have to say Qin Ying was a better kid than Qin Xiong. He was smart, friendly, outgoing. Not like Qin Xiong at all, who never had much to say to adults, even when he was a kid."
All this had happened twenty to thirty years ago. There was no surveillance footage from back then, of course, and even paper trails were hard to find. The police only knew that Qin Ying had once existed. They had no idea how old he was when he was picked up by the Qin family.
Whether or not he was truly 'picked up' still had to be questioned as well.
Back then, most families were struggling to get by. One more child in a family meant one more mouth to feed. Why would the Qin family have picked up a child? And there were so many orphans in the world. Why did Qin Anqiang pick up Qin Ying in particular?
While meeting with Old Xu, Ming Shu asked a few more questions. "Do you remember how old Qin Ying was when you first saw him?"
Old Xu thought back for a while, then lifted his right hand. "He was about this tall. Five or six years old, I'd say. Qin Anqiang said his younger son had been raised out in the country, and they'd just brought him to the city so they could all live together."
Five or six years old. If Qin Ying had indeed been five or six when he came to live with the Qin family, it meant he would have lived under the same roof as Qin Xiong for approximately ten years.
"How was the relationship between the brothers Qin Xiong and Qin Ying?" Ming Shu asked.
Old Xu shook his head. "Qin Anqiang and his wife both favored their younger son, Qin Ying. Maybe that was because they had a heavy conscience for having the boy raised out in the countryside for so long, so they felt they had to dote on him. But regardless of their reasons, favoritism is favoritism. If I were Qin Xiong, I'm sure I wouldn't have been happy."
The Qin family had told their neighbors that Qin Ying was their younger son, raised out in the countryside. But the field work team had already gone out to the Qin family's hometown, where they confirmed no child named 'Qin Ying' ever existed. The living relatives of Qin Anqiang also confirmed that Qin Anqiang rarely ever visited after moving out to the city—how could he have adopted a small child from there?
"What about Qin Anqiang and his wife Bai Hong?" Ming Shu continued. "Were they in good health?"
"Qin Anqiang was always very healthy. I remember he passed away not long after the birth of his granddaughter. Such a pity. He hadn't even retired yet," Old Xu lamented. "But his wife really wasn't in very good health. She was always in and out of the hospital. One year, she even went to another city for treatment."
According to Huang Qing, Bai Hong had fallen ill due to Qin Ying's disappearance and passed away a short while later.
If Bai Hong had been in poor health to begin with, it was certainly possible that the loss of her beloved son caused her health to further deteriorate, ultimately resulting in death due to depression. However, how could Qin Anqiang, a man who was physically fit and healthy, survive the loss of his child and wife, only to pass away soon afterwards?
Ming Shu soon received a call from Xiao Man.
"Captain Ming! I checked the photo you brought back. The fingerprints belong to Qin Ke. It was Qin Ke who put Qin Ying's photo in that frame!"
Ming Shu had already anticipated that possibility, so he was naturally unsurprised.
Qin Ke's hatred for her parents seemed to be a stark contrast to how she felt about Qin Ying. So what exactly did she know?
Xiao Man continued, "Zhou Yuan found something on his end too. Originally, I offered to report it to you along with what I had, but he said no. He has to tell you himself."
As soon as Ming Shu heard that, he knew right away that Zhou Yuan had taken their earlier conversation to heart. He smiled and said, "I'll be back soon."
"These are Qin Ke's search records and browsing history," Zhou Yuan said. He got up from his seat and made room in front of his computer monitor. "She used that encrypted laptop to look up unsolved murder cases from across the country, as well as urban legends and horror stories. What's noteworthy is that she was the only person who ever used her laptop and her cell phone, but she only looked these things up on her laptop—never her cell phone."
"Because she would always take her phone out of the house, so there was a chance she would lose it," Ming Shu said while skimming the contents on the screen. "If she read these things on her phone, she would risk being found out."
"The laptop was very clean," Zhou Yuan added. "No games, not even any records of shopping transactions. Qin Ke seemed to use it only to read up on unsolved cases and to chat with fans of suspense and mystery stories."
Ming Shu noticed a post Qin Ke had made four years ago, on the nation's most popular mystery and suspense forum. She detailed her family's story, but of course with all the names of the people and places involved anonymized.
She wrote that she'd never known her father had a younger brother. Her parents never mentioned it, and she could never find anyone besides her grandparents, parents, herself, and her little brother in their family photo albums. But when she was a teenager, she happened to find a photo tucked away in an old dictionary. There were four people in that dictionary, three of whom she knew—her father and grandparents.
The fourth person was someone she'd never seen before.
But judging by the postures and expressions of the four people in the photo, it was a family portrait.
If it was a family portrait, why had she never seen the fourth person before? Why had she never even heard of him?
In the story Qin Ke told the forum, she was the girl who took the photo to her mother, who was so shocked by the sight of the picture that she immediately tore it up and demanded to know where the girl had found it.
Surprised and frightened, the girl pointed to the bookshelf in an inner room.
Her mother rushed in there and yanked all the books off the bookshelf. The books fell to the floor, and the mother frantically searched through each and every one in a crazed frenzy.
The girl stood beside her mother, feeling like this woman had become a stranger in her eyes.
As the mother continued to flip through the books, the daughter quietly slipped over to the trash can and found two torn scraps of the photo, tucking them away in her pocket.
Soon after that, the father returned.
Qin Ke wrote that her parents spoke for a long time that night, then immediately sold some old books to a scrap collector.
That evening, the girl's father asked if she'd seen any other similar photos anywhere.
The girl shook her head.
At that moment, she thought—
Even if I did, I wouldn't tell you.
'Is that person a relative of ours?' the girl asked.
The mother's expression became strange, and the father said, 'No. Just someone I know. Remember, he isn't part of our family. There's no such person in our family.'
After that incident blew over, the girl taped the two pieces of the photo she'd retrieved together. She often gazed at the person in that photo, feeling like this person had something to say to her.
She had an aunt. Although this aunt was a close relative, the girl's mother wasn't on good terms with her. The girl was hiding a secret deep in her heart now, and she knew her parents wouldn't tell her anything. So she thought of asking her aunt.
Her aunt may know something!
During the holidays, the girl went to visit her aunt. After giving her aunt the gifts she'd been sent with, she took out the photo as well.
The aunt said, 'Isn't this Qin Ying?'
Qin Ying. For the first time, the girl learned of her young uncle who'd disappeared before she was born. She heard about her grandparents passing away one after the other, because they couldn't accept their son's disappearance.
The girl was already at an age where she couldn't help but wonder—was her uncle really missing? If he was missing, why didn't her parents tell her the truth? Why couldn't she find anything about her uncle at home, besides this one photo?
Gradually, a terrible suspicion entered her mind.
She tried to disavow herself of those thoughts, but she couldn't find any way to counter those suspicions.
The suspense and mystery forum where Qin Ke posted this story was full of highly analytical people who liked to hone their minds with these sorts of mysteries. Many comments under Qin Ke's story said the same thing—they all concluded that Qin Ke's uncle hadn't gone missing, but had been killed by Qin Ke's parents.
Some even said that her grandparents may not have died of natural causes.
As for motive, there were various theories.
"Qin Ke registered an account on this forum five years ago, and she made this post four years ago, when she was only seventeen," Ming Shu said. "Can you find out where she got online when she made the post?"
Zhou Yuan nodded. "It was an internet cafe on Longcheng Street."
"Qin Ke also started to indulge her 'hobbies' when she was seventeen," Ming Shu said, pacing back and forth in front of the computer monitor. "It seems this discovery changed her whole outlook on life."
"It's a pity she's already been killed," Zhou Yuan said. "Otherwise she could have given us more information."
"Continue to check Qin Ke's social connections," Ming Shu ordered. "And there's one more thing. I'll have to trouble you technical investigators to work hard for a while longer."
Zhou Yuan instantly straightened up. "Captain Ming, we'll do whatever you need."
"I suspect the killer has been watching Qin Ke online for a long time," Ming Shu said. "Find a way to find those who have been secretly observing Qin Ke."
Qin Ying provided the team with an unexpected lead. While investigating this lead, the typical investigation continued to proceed uninterrupted.
Qin Xiong and Huang Hui had been business owners, and before the summer of that year, they'd dominated the restaurant industry on Longcheng Street. Inevitably, just like Cheng Jianghu did now, they'd attracted the ire and hatred of many other people.
When Xu Chun rushed back with the field work team, he had some new information that couldn't be ignored—
Cheng Jianghu used to be a restaurant called Xinyang Kitchen, which also served Jianghu cuisine. Back then, Shrimp Baobao was wildly popular, and Xinyang Kitchen had suffered for it.
The name 'Xinyang' had come from the son of the owner. Qu Yongfei's son, Qu Xinyang, had suffered from a heart condition. Last year, the family had been in dire need of a large sum of money for treatment. Qu Yongfei and his wife worked tirelessly to improve their business, devising a special dish to attract new customers. However, before long, this dish was copied by Shrimp Baobao.
The recipe itself wasn't extremely new or innovative, but on Road 3 of Longcheng Street, only Xinyang Kitchen offered that dish. When Shrimp Baobao added it to their menu, it was obvious that they'd copied Qu Yongfei's idea.
Because of that, Qu Yongfei had gone to talk to Qin Xiong. He'd even pleaded with him. But in front of many people, Qin Xiong declared, "We each do our own business. If your business is failing, that's on you. Who doesn't face challenges in this world? You ask me to take pity on you, but if I give your family a break, everyone on this street is going to come knocking on my door with their sob stories, asking me to give them a break too. How can I still do business then?"
Earlier this year, Qu Xinyang succumbed to his illness and passed away. Xinyang Kitchen continued to operate for a short time before closing its doors to customers. Afterwards, a new owner arrived, and the restaurant was rebranded as Cheng Jianghu.
Now, Qu Yongfei was the only member of his family who still remained in Dongye City. He certainly had a motive for the crime against the Qin family.
While Xu Chun and Ming Shu discussed the case, Lan Qiao visited the Serious Crimes Division again.
"Yo, Qiao-er's here!" Xu Chun greeted. "We just ordered some dinner. If you have time, wait a while and eat with us."
Lan Qiao wore a serious expression. Her brows were slightly pinched with an apologetic look. "I know the Serious Crimes Division is bearing the pressure of two major cases already, and you don't have the bandwidth for another. But I have to report the developments in the case of Qiu Min's disappearance to you."
Ming Shu pulled out a chair for her. "No need to be so hesitant. Go ahead and tell me. Let's solve this together."
Lan Qiao told Ming Shu the whole story about Hong Chuanfei abducting Qiu Min, and Qiu Min being taken away from an abandoned arsenal by another person. In the end, she concluded, "The trail breaks down at Yatou Mountain. If we continue to investigate, we'll definitely circle back to Shouquan—because Qiu Min's cell phone was last used in Shouquan. And the case you're investigating now also involves Shouquan."
"This person who took Qiu Min away is rather complex," Xiao Yu'an said. He'd appeared in the Serious Crimes Division's offices at some point. "He's using Hong Chuanfei's actions in order to accomplish his own goals."
"Director Xiao!" Lan Qiao hastily stood up. She had yet to formally meet Xiao Yu'an.
Xiao Yu'an smiled warmly. "Captain Lan. Good work."
Ming Shu had taken in all the twists and turns of Lan Qiao's story. He was just concentrating on sorting through this new information in his mind when he suddenly heard someone's phone vibrating.
Xu Chun looked left and right for the source of the noise. "Captain Ming, it's your phone."
Ming Shu picked it up and took a look, seeing it was a call from his young rookie Fang Yuanhang.
As soon as Ming Shu answered, Fang Yuanhang's voice came rushing through—
"Chief! You were right! There's another body on Mount Qiyue!"